2007 Lotus Exige Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

TCC Team TCC Team
December 3, 2006


2000 mini concept

2000 mini concept

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It looks like a spaceship and drives like a go-kart. The new Lotus Exige S is also likely to turn heads as effectively as the new Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, but for barely a quarter of the price.

The name Lotus has also had a certain cachet among automotive aficionados, and last year’s introduction of the Elise roadster put the British brand within reach of a broad audience of American sports car fans. For 2007, Lotus is adding this new fastback. At $56,990, it’ll set you back another $8000, but with its new, supercharged engine, stiffer suspension, and high-performance aerodynamics, the Exige S is likely to gain even more traction for Lotus in a market it long has coveted.


TheCarConnection.com jumped at the opportunity to test out the mid-engine sports car a few weeks back, spending a day driving it along the open roads of Nevada, as well as an afternoon on the demanding, South Road Course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.


No commuter car


In an era when even the latest Ferraris are designed to function as “daily drivers,” be warned that the Exige S is not going to replace your daily commuter car. If nothing else, you need to be lithe and limber to climb in and out of the low, cramped two-seater. Meanwhile the rear-mounted intercooler, engine cover, and wing completely block visibility using the rearview mirror, which has been left in place solely to meet government regulations.


But if you’re willing to ante up for some yoga lessons, and don’t mind the little Lotus’s rough ride and brutal noise levels, you may just be ready to fall in love.


The heart of the new machine is a supercharged, 1.8-liter four that has been sourced from, of all places, Toyota. With its Roots-style blower, the modest powerplant pumps out 220 horsepower, 30 more than the ragtop Elise, while torque jumps from 133 to 165 pound-feet. It may not sound like much, but Lotus has made a number of changes to enhance performance for more than that number might initially suggest.


2000 Chrysler minivans

2000 Chrysler minivans

The naturally aspirated Elise’s variable cam timing system resulted in a notable notch in mid-range acceleration. The addition of the intercooled supercharger, along with a revision of the cam timing system — which is now switched at varying engine speeds — effectively eliminates this soft spot. The overall torque band has not only been flattened out but significantly widened, so there’s solid torque available from the moment you squeeze the throttle.


Now add the fact that Lotus engineers, in keeping with one of the company’s prime directives, have kept weight to a minimum. All that extra hardware has resulted in a car weighing in at 2077 pounds, a modest 62 more than the Elise. Do the math and you’ll come up with an imposing power to weight ratio. If that isn’t impressive enough, consider that the S will shoot from 0-60 in a blistering 4.1 seconds, with 0-100 times coming in at around 11 seconds.


All about the handling


Of course, as anyone who drove the Elise quickly realized, the little roadster was about far more than straight-line acceleration. That’s even more the case with the Exige S, with its track-inspired suspension and aerodynamics.


The missile-like shape of the Exige’s body may be eye-catching, but it’s also quite functional. The goal is to not only cheat the wind by reducing drag, but also to use aerodynamics to maximize grip. The composite rear wing and rear diffuser contribute much of the car’s nearly 100 pounds of downforce. A small scoop, mounted at the front of the sloping engine cover, funnels air back to the intercooler.


We drove both the standard suspension and the more aggressive and adjustable Track Package. For anyone looking to maximize the thrills of their Exige, we’d suggest considering the optional suspension, with its impressive Bilstein shocks and five-way adjustable front sway bar. But unless you’re an autocrosser, avoid the limited-slip differential.


2000 Chevrolet Avalanche and Pontiac Aztek

2000 Chevrolet Avalanche and Pontiac Aztek

For the average driver doing everyday maneuvers, even the base suspension, with its unequal control arms at all four corners, is going to offer more than enough thrills. And on dry pavement, it’s hard to get anything stickier than the Exige’s standard-issue Yokohama A048 tires.


Steering is unboosted, but given the layout and light weight of the Exige S, you’re likely not to even notice. The overall feel is point-and-shoot. It’s uncannily easy to guide the little sports car around even the tightest corners, and even the most off-camber turns do little to challenge the car’s single-minded determination.


Acceleration is matched by the Exige’s stopping power: four 11.5-inch, vented, cross-drilled discs provide pleasantly predictable and linear braking.


An exercise in minimalism


The two-seater’s cockpit is an exercise in minimalism. There’s a handsome wheel that’s also just right to the touch. The appointments are mostly functional aluminum, with a sort of stripped-down aerospace feel. Niceties are at a minimum, there’s a radio, but no cupholders, and you can even opt out on air conditioning should you desire to shave even more weight.


2000 Jaguar F-type concept

2000 Jaguar F-type concept

It’s cramped inside, and you may occasionally find yourself bumping into the passenger, as well as the simple gearshift lever, little more than a metal ball on an aluminum shaft. It’s mated to a six-speed transmission that’s reasonably quick shifting, though it takes a little practice to run it through the gates smoothly and quickly.


The seats are designed to hold you firmly in place, yet they proved surprisingly comfortable, even after a long day of street and track driving.


We’re used to sacrificing even the bare essentials for the thrill of a sports car, but we were pleased to discover that Lotus actually found room to engineer into the Exige a modest four cubic feet of trunk space.


For those who find it a challenge to slip into a conventional sedan, don’t even consider the Exige S. You’re going to spend too much time driving over to your chiropractor. But if you don’t mind the challenge getting in-and-out, the harsh ride and ear-splitting engine roar, Lotus’s little offering is an impressive package. It’s quick, great fun to drive, and is certain to make a visual impression. We expect the Exige S to add to the momentum of the Elise ragtop and firmly plant Lotus as a fixture in the U.S. sports car market.

2007 Lotus Exige S

Base price: $56,990

Engine: Supercharged 1.8-liter in-line four, 220 hp/165 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Length x width x height:  149.5 x 68.0 x 45.8 in
Wheelbase: 90.6 in
Curb weight: 2077 lb
Fuel economy: 25 mpg combined.

Major standard features: Air conditioning; power windows and locks; AM/FM/CD; keyless remote; cruise control

Safety features: Anti-lock brakes; dual front airbags

Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles

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